The VESPA system looks at the importance of non-cognitive skills in educational success. Developed by two teachers with over 40 years’ combined teaching experience, VESPA draws extensively on academic research and classroom experience to develop a system that supports student learning, helping every learner become the best they can be.


Developed by Steve Oakes and Martin Griffin from 2012 onwards, the VESPA system was initially developed to help improve student performance, productivity and wellbeing at the sixth form they worked at, but has since been adopted by many others at key stage 3, 4 and 5.


VESPA draws together current thinking from psychology, business and sport to inspire, motivate and support students ensuring they achieve their full potential. It aims to cut through the noise surrounding character development to discover common behaviours and characteristics that all students need to be successful.


Extensive research and observation suggests 5 key components to success, which can be measured and developed in all students.

(Click on each component below to learn more)


The degree to which a student knows what they want to achieve


The number of hours proactive independent study a student is willing to do


The level to which the student organises their learning resources


The level to which a student commits to practising and developing their skills


The way a student responds constructively to setbacks

That’s it. It looks pretty simple in those terms, but it’s the distillation of years of careful observations! 

Explore the rest of our site for more details




Steve was the Assistant Director of the Blue Coat Sixth Form for eight years. He has a passion for sports psychology and improving students' performance through changing attitudes. He has developed and implemented programmes to improve student mindsets across all key stages  including a Y8 Ignite Curriculum, Y11 'Boys on Board Programme', KS4 Mental Toughness and the A Level Mindset. Steve is currently completing a PhD in VESPA at MMU.


Martin is a writer and educational speaker. He was previously Deputy Head Teacher at the Blue Coat School in Oldham, and Head of Sixth Form Education. He’s been a head of department and head of faculty and has a keen interest in  raising attainment through culture and expectations.

VISION about having a clear goal.

Its about making a connection between the work you are doing and the reason for doing it.

Its also about setting targets for improvement.

In simple terms, its about knowing what you want to achieve.

Duckworth(2016) emphasises 'stickability' for a long term goal, but we've found making goals shorter-term works well for low vision students.

If they can't tell you where they want to be when they are 18, try asking a student;

'Your next report goes home in four weeks. What grades would you like to see on that report? How can we go about making that happen?

Of course, simply setting goals doesn't necessarily improve achievement (Schunk, 2003).   If only it were that simple!

Below are the 3 steps to developing your VISION:



Decide what you want to achieve.

This doesn't have to be about identifying a specific career path. For most students this is about assessing motivators and drivers, considering problems and issues they's like to help solve or something as simple as deciding on some of the outcomes they'd like to achieve


Undertake a goal setting Process

Most goal setting stops at stage 1, students need to understand the full goal setting process for it to be effective. Goals need to be structured into a hierarchy. For example a student might have an ultimate goal of "improving healthcare in the UK". Under this goal will be a number of mid and low level goals to achieve this. (see image below)


Sticking to the Plan

Duckworth (2016) coined the term "grit". This can be the tricky part of VISION. It involves reflecting on the progress being made towards the goal and making any necessary adjustments.  There are a number of studies that show goal setting enhances achievement (Moriaty et al, 2001). There is also evidence to show that students should be involved in setting and evaluating their own goals (Azevedo et al, 2002)



Its probably fair to say that the absence of EFFORT pretty much guarantees failure; however, more effort on its own is not a guarantee of success! You have to practice in the right way

Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers, 2008) suggests that elite performers will generally have to put in 10,000hrs of work to become the best in any field.  However, Ericsson and Pool (2016), claim that Gladwell misinterpreted the research in a number of ways.

EFFORT varies from field to field.


In music, for example, many top musicians quite often exceed this number of hours, whereas Ericsson found that you could become a world memory champion in far fewer hours.


However, both Gladwell and Ericsson agree that 'becoming accomplished in any field in which there is a well-established history of people working to become experts requires a tremendous amount of effort exerted over many years. It may not be 10,000, but it will take a lot' (Ericsson and Pool, 2016)


Perhaps one of the most useful ways of thinking about the importance of EFFORT has been presented by Angela Duckworth (2016). She has provided an equation that is useful for thinking about effort and sharing with your pupils!

She suggests the following:

talent x effort = skill 


TALENT - how quickly your skills improve when you invest effort.

ACHIEVEMENT  - when you take your acquired skills and use them


The key determining factor for both talent and achievement is clearly EFFORT, as it factors twice in the equation!


Our research also found that there was a link between effort and achievement.

In the A Level Mindset (2016) we introduced the 1-10 scale. In order to effectively measure, encourage and model high levels of EFFORT, first you have to quantify it in a way that unifies everyone's thinking and in a way that everyone can understand.


We've worked with a lot of schools that report on pupil effort to parents; however, when teachers are asked to quantify this they usually have very different responses. The EFFORT message transmitted to pupils can be quite confusing. In our research, we started by asking pupils how hard they thought they were working on a 1-10 scale.


We used the following guidelines to help pupils with their thinking:  

  • 1 - Little or no effort »

  • 5 - Some effort -you're working quite hard »

  • 10 -High levels of effort -the hardest you've worked

For most pupils their typical response was  'About a 6, Sir'!


We soon realised that this was a pointless exercise; how a pupil rates their EFFORT will quite often depend on their own reference bias (Duckworth and Yeager, 2015). A 'frame of reference' means that individuals generally judge their performance based on the people they are surrounded by.


We found that the main problems with reference bias are: 

  • The numbers mean different things to different people.

  • Pupils tend to surround themselves with peers who do either similar or less work than they do. This means they 'normalise' the amount of work they are doing, even feel good about it, because they can point to someone doing less than they are.

  • Pupils don't have a clear idea of what the hardest working pupils are doing.

  • No one can know what pupils are doing in other schools.

We decided to collect data on how much EFFORT (hours of independent work) our Yr12 pupils were putting in at certain points of the year. We collected the data through questionnaires over a few years.


We found that pupils at the lower end of the scale were doing about 0-2 hours of independent study a week and at the top of the scale they were doing about 20 hours per week (from about March onwards). 


This provided us and the pupils with a useful reference point, and allowed us to begin to  measure, and  to some extent quantify effort:

Scored 1: 0-2 hours independent study a week 

Scored 5: 10 hours independent study a week

Scored 10: 20 hours independent study a week 


It also became clear that generally pupils who were getting better grades were putting more EFFORT into their studies.


Of course , there were pupils putting the EFFORT  in and not getting good grades; quite often they were practising in the wrong way.


Do you know how many hours of independent work your top pupils are doing each week?

Perhaps the most important message to transmit to your pupils is the 'myth of effortless success'.


Pupils only get to fully understand this when they see and hear the amount of EFFORT that has generally gone into a successful performance.

In our small scale study, the relationship between EFFORT and academic performance was very clear; however, we appreciate that some teachers may prefer the term 'efficient effort' (developed by Jung et al., 2016). They suggest that efficient EFFORT is the time pupils spend on a task in such a way that their return on investment is maximised.


For us this means: 

effort x PRACTICE =

Efficient return on investment

SYSTEMS about two things

1. A system to organise learning so pupils can make sense of it all and

2. A system to organise their time so pupils can complete key tasks to deadlines.

We find this definition of systems much more helpful than the nebulous term

"Study Skills"

The importance of good systems is often overlooked -Hassanbeigi and colleagues (2011) even suggest that 'for many pupils, academic challenges are related more to a lack of organisation than to a lack of intellectual ability'.

Hassanbeigi's research used the:

Study Skills Assessment Questionnaire

The questionnaire was developed by counselling services at Houston University and examines a number of areas including: time management, procrastination and organising and processing information.


Their sample is only one study; however, it would be interesting to look at the relationship between GCSE grades and systems.

We've often found a clear link between:


and poor organisation / project management.

The time spent on developing these skills has a significant return on investment, so we've devised a number of tools to help improve these habits in GCSE pupils. 



When it comes to learning quickly:

the way you practiSe - not how often you practiSe that counts.

Tom Stafford and Michael Dewar (2014)

We see practice as distinct from effort -it represents what learners do with the time they put into their studies. Not the 'how much' of study but the 'how'.

They analysed data from 854,064 players on an online game looking at how practice affected subsequent performances.

PRACTICE doesn't make perfect;


DELIBERATE practice makes perfect.

In other words, effort alone is not enough to guarantee success.



Academic progress is as much about how you work as it is about how long you work for.


Pupils who are putting in large amounts of time and effort but not making progress, are very often working on the wrong things.



Anders Ericsson has spent his entire career looking at top level performers in a number of fields. His conclusion is that top performers don't just practice hard, they practice in  a particular way.  He calls this:

'deliberate practice'

He suggests there are some key principles that are needed to enter this type of practice:

1A clearly defined stretch goal.

This has to be very specific and measurable.

For example, if a pupil was doing a past GCSE paper they might select all the questions they found difficult and attempt these within a specific time frame.

It's the 'stretch' aspect that's key. You have to practice outside your comfort zone. 

2. Full concentration and effort

Deliberate practice is often performed individually,  thus preventing distractions

3. Immediate, informative feedback

Tricky for academic school or college students, however they should seek feedback as close as possible to their performance

4Repetition and reflection

As soon as a pupil realises they have made mistakes (immediately after stage 3), they must go back and correct their work.

How many pupils do you know who practice in this way?

Most revision techniques used by pupils never enter deliberate practice.


Reading through notes and highlighting key terms doesn't even get you to stage 1. We believe that understanding practice is key to pupils' performance




  1. Confidence (in particular confidence in abilities) - Feels confident in attempting

  2. Emotional control - Can regulate their emotions, even in challenging situations.

  3. Academic buoyancy - Responds positively to critical feedback

  4. Growth mindset - Believes that intelligence can be developed with hard work.

Confidence is key to academic success (Stankov and Lee, 2014). Building students confidence can be a slow process and involves small steps; however, the more we celebrate achievements and recognise when pupils are making progress, the more confident they will become.

'The effect of achievement on self-concept is stronger than the effect of self-concept on achievement.'

(Muijs and Reynolds - 2011)


Emotional control can have a negative effect on pupils, particularly at exam time.  No matter how well a pupil has prepared, if they can't control their emotions when they walk into an exam room, there is a chance they won't achieve the grades they deserve. 

Academic buoyancy is key to the GCSE years. Pupils have to see critical feedback as a way of improving. Pupils who can't get back up after one disappointing grade can spiral in confidence and emotional control.

Growth mindset is crucial for a student to maintain the belief that they will improve if they keep working hard. The belief that intelligence is fixed or gifted can limit the other three aspects.


Get the attitude right and there is a good chance that a pupil will achieve the best they can be